Abuse pictures that shame British Army

Key points

• British soldiers on trial for abuse of Iraqi prisoners in echo of Abu Ghraib

• 22 photographs form basis of evidence against three soldiers

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• Charges follow soldiers' interpretation of order to 'work prisoners hard'

Key quote

"Even though the order to make them work was unlawful, had these defendants done no more than what that order envisaged they would not be facing these charges. These charges are a long way outside that order. In no way did that order envisage conduct of the type that I have described" - Lt-Col Nick Clapham, prosecutor

Story in full PHOTOGRAPHS of British troops abusing Iraqi looters at their base in Iraq were shown at the soldiers’ court martial in Germany yesterday.

The photos taken on 15 May 2003 at a supply depot in Basra show naked Iraqis being forced to simulate degrading sex acts.

They show one blindfolded Iraqi man trussed up like a chicken suspended from the prongs of a forklift truck. And they show one soldier standing on a prostrate captive like a hunter with his prey.

The 22 colour photos form the case against three soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who face lengthy jail terms and dismissal with disgrace from the army if found guilty.

The photos come as British troops still struggle for hearts and minds in Iraq ahead of democratic elections. There are fears that incident will be compared around the world to the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad, where US troops degraded and humiliated their prisoners.

In an attempt to limit the damage, the head of the army, General Sir Mike Jackson, said yesterday he condemned utterly all acts of abuse.

Lt-Col Nick Clapham, prosecuting in the case that opened at Roberts Barracks in Osnabrueck, said: "It cannot be said that these pictures are of incidents that are anything other than shocking and appalling."

The soldiers were guarding the camp, which had been plagued by looters.

The prosecution says the accused - L-Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, L-Cpl Darren Larkin, 30, and Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33 - took the law into their own hands after an unauthorised order issued to them by their commander.

Major Dan Taylor, in charge of the facility, called Camp Bread Basket - a food centre - was fed up with the stores being looted nightly by raiders.

After requesting extra staff - which he received - he issued an edict that the looters stealing were to be rounded up "and worked hard". But Maj Taylor’s order contravened both military law and the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of civilians in an occupied country.

"He was not authorised to issue such an order," said Lt-Col Clapham. "Even though the order to make them work was unlawful, had these defendants done no more than what that order envisaged they would not be facing these charges. These charges are a long way outside that order.

"In no way did that order envisage conduct of the type that I have described."

Lt-Col Clapham told the seven officers sitting in judgment on the three men that the order to catch and punish the Iraqi looters was called "Operation Ali Baba".

It involved men dressed in training kit armed with camouflage poles - long sticks used to erect netting around parked military vehicles - going hunting for looters.

Once they were brought back with their plunder they were made to run in searing heat with boxes of dried milk on their heads.

But then this "beasting", in army parlance, turned worse when the Iraqis were split into small groups.

Cpl Kenyon, who was part of a platoon drafted into Camp Bread Basket specifically to boost security, was in charge of men who took three or four Iraqis away from the main body of captives.

The army alleges that he, as a senior man, aided and abetted in the abuse that was his duty to stop.

The court heard that L-Cpl Cooley drove the forklift truck and that most of the photos were taken by a fusilier convicted in an earlier case relating to the abuse.

The pictures will send shockwaves through the British Army, which still has 9,000 soldiers around Basra in the run-up to Iraqi elections.

Among the images are photos of two naked Iraqi men simulating anal sex with their thumbs raised up to the cameras and a close-up photograph of two Iraqi men simulating oral sex.

A grinning L-Cpl Cooley is also seen driving a forklift truck with an Iraqi male suspended from the forks, which are raised about two metres.

The court heard that L-Cpl Cooley admitted driving the truck, but that he claimed it was "to move the man out of the sun".

A statement from Emma Louise Blackie, who works in a photo developing shop in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was read into court about the day when Fusilier Gary Barclam came into the store with the "trophy snaps" which led to the court martial.

She told police that she was shocked by the content of the photos, which she thought "looked like PoWs being abused.

"I remember the man who brought them in as being very polite," Ms Blackie said. "But I called the police straight away. I knew something was very wrong."

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, said yesterday that all such allegations of abuse were investigated immediately.

In a statement, he stressed that only a "small number" of the 65,000 servicemen and women who had served in Iraq were alleged to have been involved in such incidents.

And he promised that the outcome of the court martial would be studied to see if it raised any further issues for the army.

Sir Mike said that for legal reasons he could not comment directly on the photographs while the hearing was continuing in Germany. "In the meantime, we can only repeat what we have said in the past about abuse," he said.

"We condemn utterly all acts of abuse. Where there is evidence of abuse, this is investigated immediately.

"We have always made clear that the proper way of dealing with allegations of abuse by the armed forces is for them to be investigated by the service police and, as appropriate, prosecuted by the independent service authorities.

"I have every confidence in the military investigative and judicial system."

Cpl Kenyon faces six charges in total, including two of aiding and abetting a person to force two naked males being detained by British troops to simulate a sex act.

L-Cpl Cooley faces three charges, including tying an unknown male prisoner to a forklift truck, as well as simulating punching and kicking another unknown male also being detained by the army.

Both entered not-guilty pleas to the abuse charges.

L-Cpl Larkin, 30, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, admitted one charge of assaulting an unknown male at the camp, but denied another charge of forcing two Iraqi males to undress in front of others.

William England, representing L-Cpl Larkin, said his client was ashamed of the offence to which he had pleaded guilty.

He said: "He knows he has brought shame on his proud regiment, his name and his family."

All the men have been allowed to continue to serve with their regiment until the commencement of the trial, but they are facing between four and ten years in prison if found guilty of all the charges.

The trial is expected to last a month.